Chapter III

The Person of Christ the most ineffable Effect of Divine Wisdom and Goodness--Thence the next Cause of all True Religion--In what sense it is so

The person of Christ is the most glorious and ineffable effect of
divine wisdom, grace, and power; and therefore is the next foundation
of all acceptable religion and worship. The Divine Being itself is the
first formal reason, foundation, and object of all religion. It all
depends on taking God to be our God; which is the first of his
commands. For religion, and the worship performed in it, is nothing
but the due respect of rational creatures unto the divine nature, and
its infinite excellencies. It is the glorifying of God as God; the way
of expressing that respect being regulated by the revelation of his
will. Yet the divine essence is not, in itself, the next and immediate
cause of religious worship. But it is the manifestation of this Being
and its excellencies, wherewith the mind of rational creatures is
immediately affected, and whereby it is obliged to give that religious
honour and worship which is due unto that Being, and necessary from
our relation thereunto. Upon this manifestation, all creatures capable
by an intelligent nature of a sense thereof, are indispensably obliged
to give all divine honour and glory to God.

The way alone whereby this manifestation may be made, is by outward
acts and effects. For, in itself, the divine nature is hid from all
living, and dwelleth in that light whereunto no creature can approach.
This, therefore, God first made, by the creation of all things out of
nothing. The creation of man himself--with the principles of a
rational, intelligent nature, a conscience attesting his subordination
unto God and the creation of all other things, declaring the glory of
his wisdom, goodness, and power, was the immediate ground of all
natural religion, and yet continues so to be. And the glory of it
answers the means and ways of the manifestation of the Divine Being,
existence, excellencies, and properties. And where this manifestation
is despised or neglected, there God himself is so; as the apostle
discourseth at large, Rom.1:18-22.

But of all the effects of the divine excellencies, the constitution
of the person of Christ as the foundation of the new creation, as "the
mystery of Godliness," was the most ineffable and glorious. I speak
not of his divine person absolutely; for his distinct personality and
subsistence was by an internal and eternal act of the Divine Being in
the person of the Father, or eternal generation--which is essential
unto the divine essence--whereby nothing anew was outwardly wrought or
did exist. He was not, he is not, in that sense, the effect of the
divine wisdom and power of God, but the essential wisdom and power of
God himself. But we speak of him only as incarnate, as he assumed our
nature into personal subsistence with himself. His conception in the
womb of the Virgin, as unto the integrity of human nature, was a
miraculous operation of the divine power. But the prevention of that
nature from any subsistence of its own--by its assumption into
personal union with the Son of God, in the first instance of its
conception--is that which is above all miracles, nor can be designed
by that name. A mystery it is, so far above the order of all creating
or providential operations, that it wholly transcends the sphere of
them that are most miraculous. Herein did God glorify all the
properties of the divine nature, acting in a way of infinite wisdom,
grace, and condescension. The depths of the mystery hereof are open
only unto him whose understanding it infinite, which no created
understanding can comprehend. All other things were produced and
effected by an outward emanation of power from God. He said, "Let
there be light, and there was light." But this assumption of our
nature into hypostatical union with the Son of God, this constitution
of one and the same individual person in two natures so infinitely
distinct as those of God and man--whereby the Eternal was made in
time, the Infinite became finite, the Immortal mortal, yet continuing
eternal, infinite, immortal--is that singular expression of divine
wisdom, goodness, and power, wherein God will be admired and glorified
unto all eternity. Herein was that change introduced into the whole
first creation, whereby the blessed angels were exalted, Satan and his
works ruined, mankind recovered from a dismal apostasy, all things
made new, all things in heaven and earth reconciled and gathered into
one Head, and a revenue of eternal glory raised unto God, incomparably
above what the first constitution of all things in the order of nature
could yield unto him.

In the expression of this mystery, the Scripture does sometimes draw
the veil over it, as that which we cannot look into. So, in his
conception of the Virgin, with respect unto this union which
accompanied it, it was told her, that "the power of the Highest should
overshadow her:" Luke 1:35. A work it was of the power of the Most
High, but hid from the eyes of men in the nature of it; and,
therefore, that holy thing which had no subsistence of its own, which
should be born of her, should "be called the Son of God," becoming one
person with him. Sometimes it expresseth the greatness of the mystery,
and leaves it as an object of our admiration, 1 Tim.3:16: "Without
controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in
the flesh." A mystery it is, and that of those dimensions as no
creature can comprehend. Sometimes it putteth things together, as that
the distance of the two natures illustrate the glory of the one
person, John 1:14: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." But
what Word was this? That which was in the beginning, which was with
God, which was God, by whom all things were made, and without whom was
not any thing made that was made; who was light and life. This Word
was made flesh, not by any change of his own nature or essence, not by
a transubstantiation of the divine nature into the human, not by
ceasing to be what he was, but by becoming what he was not, in taking
our nature to his own, to be his own, whereby he dwelt among us. This
glorious Word, which is God, and described by his eternity and
omnipotence in works of creation and providence, "was made flesh,"
which expresseth the lowest state and condition of human nature.
Without controversy, great is this mystery of godliness! And in that
state wherein he visibly appeared as so made flesh, those who had eyes
given them from above, saw "his glory, the glory as of the
only-begotten of the Father." The eternal Word being made flesh, and
manifested therein, they saw his glory, the glory of the only-begotten
of the Father. What heart can conceive, what tongue can express, the
least part of the glory of this divine wisdom and grace? So also is it
proposed unto us, Isa.9:6: "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is
given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name
shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting
Father, The Prince of Peace." He is called, in the first place,
Wonderful. And that deservedly: Prov.30:4. That the mighty God should
be a child born, and the everlasting Father a son given unto us, may
well entitle him unto the name of Wonderful.

Some amongst us say, that if there were no other way for the
redemption and salvation of the church, but this only of the
incarnation and mediation of the Son of God, there was no wisdom in
the contrivance of it. Vain man indeed would be wise, but is like the
wild ass's colt. Was there no wisdom in the contrivance of that which,
when it is effected, leaves nothing but admiration unto the utmost of
all created wisdom? Who has known the mind of the Lord in this thing,
or who has been his counsellor in this work, wherein the mighty God
became a child born to us, a son given unto us? Let all vain
imaginations cease: there is nothing left unto the sons of men, but
either to reject the divine person of Christ--as many do unto their
own destruction--or humbly to adore the mystery of infinite wisdom and
grace therein. And it will require a condescending charity, to judge
that those do really believe the incarnation of the Son of God, who
live not in the admiration of it, as the most adorable effect of
divine wisdom.

The glory of the same mystery is elsewhere testified unto, Heb.1:1-3:
"God has spoken unto us by his Son, by whom also he made the worlds;
who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his
person, upholding all things by the word of his power, by himself
purged our sin." That he purged our sins by his death, and the
oblation of himself therein unto God, is acknowledged. That this
should be done by him by whom the worlds were made, who is the
essential brightness of the divine glory, and the express image of the
person of the Father therein who upholds, rules, sustains all things
by the word of his power, whereby God purchased his church with his
own blood, (Acts 20:28,) is that wherein he will be admired unto
eternity. See Phil.2:6-9.

In Isaiah (chap. 6) there is a representation made of him as on a
throne, filling the temple with the train of his glory. The Son of God
it was who was so represented, and that as he was to fill the temple
of his human nature with divine glory, when the fullness of the godhead
dwelt in him bodily. And herein the seraphim, which administered unto
him, had six wings, with two whereof they covered their faces, as not
being able to behold or look into the glorious mystery of his
incarnation: verses 2,3; John 12:39-41; 2:19; Col.2:9. But when the
same ministering spirits, under the name of cherubim, attended the
throne of God, in the administration of his providence as unto the
disposal and government of the world, they had four wings only, and
covered not their faces, but steadily beheld the glory of it:
Ezek.1:6; 10:2,3.

This is the glory of the Christian religion--the basis and foundation
that bears the whole superstructure--the root whereon it grows. This
is its life and soul, that wherein it differs from, and inconceivably
excels, whatever was in true religion before, or whatever any false
religion pretended unto. Religion, in its first constitution, in the
estate of pure, uncorrupted nature, was orderly, beautiful and
glorious. Man being made in the image of God, was fit and able to
glorify him as God. But whereas, whatever perfection God had
communicated unto our nature, he had not united it unto Himself in a
personal union, the fabric of it quickly fell unto the ground. Want of
this foundation made it obnoxious unto ruin. God manifested herein,
that no gracious relation between him and our nature could be stable
and permanent, unless our nature was assumed into personal union and
subsistence with himself. This is the only rock and assured foundation
of the relation of the church unto God, which, now, can never utterly
fail. Our nature is eternally secured in that union, and we ourselves
(as we shall see) thereby. "In him all things consist;" (Col.1:17,18;)
wherefore, whatever beauty and glory there was in the relation that
was between God and man, and the relation of all things unto God by
man--in the preservation whereof natural religion did consist--it had
no beauty nor glory in comparison of this which does excel, or the
manifestation of God in the flesh--the appearance and subsistence of
the divine and human natures in the same single individual person. And
whereas God in that state had given man dominion "over the fish of the
sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all
the earth," (Gen.1:26,) it was all but an obscure representation of
the exaltation of our nature in Christ--as the apostle declares, Heb.
2: 6-9.

There was true religion in the world after the fall, both before and
after the giving of the Law; a religion built upon and resolved into
divine revelation. And as for the outward glory of it--the
administration that it was brought into under the tabernacle and
temple--it was beyond what is represented in the institutions of the
gospel. Yet is Christian religion, our evangelical profession, and the
state of the church thereon, far more glorious, beautiful, and
perfect, than that state of religion was capable of, or could attain.
And as this is evident from hence, because God in his wisdom, grace,
and love to the church, has removed *that* state, and introduced

  • this* in the room thereof; so the apostle proves it--in all considerable instances--in his Epistle to the Hebrews, written unto
    that purpose. There were two things, before, in religion;--the
    promise, which was the life of it; and the institutions of worship
    under the Law, which were the outward glory and beauty of it. And both
    these were nothing, or had nothing in them, but only what they before
    proposed and represented of Christ, God manifested in the flesh. The
    promise was concerning *him*, and the institutions of worship did only
    represent *him*. So the apostle declares it, Col.2:17. Wherefore, as
    all the religion that was in the world after the fact was built on the
    promise of this work of God, in due time to be accomplished; so it is
    the actual performance of it which is the foundation of the Christian
    religion, and which gives it the preeminence above all that went
    before it. So the apostle expresseth it: (Heb.1:1-3:) "God, who at
    sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the
    fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his
    Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made
    the worlds; who, being the brightness of his glory, and the express
    image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his
    power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right
    hand of the Majesty on high."

    All false religion pretended always unto things that were mysterious.
    And the more men could invent, or the devil suggest, that had an
    appearance of that nature, as sundry things were so introduced horrid
    and dreadful, the more reverence and esteem were reconciled unto it.
    But the whole compass of the craft of Satan and the imaginations of
    men could never extend itself unto the least resemblance of this
    mystery. And it is not amiss conjectured, that the apostle, in his
    description of it, 1 Tim.3:16, did reflect upon and condemn the vanity
    of the Eleusinian mysteries, which were of the greatest vogue and
    reputation among the gentiles.

    Take away the consideration hereof, and we despoil the Christian
    religion of all its glory, debasing it unto what Muhammadanism
    pretends unto, and unto what in Judaism was really enjoyed.

    The faith of this mystery enables the mind wherein it is--rendering
    it spiritual and heavenly, transforming it into the image of God.
    Herein consists the excellency of faith above all other powers and
    acts of the soul--that it receives, assents unto, and rests in, things
    in their own nature absolutely incomprehensible. It is "elegchos ou
    blepomenoon", (Heb.11:1,)--"The evidence of things not seen" that
    which makes evident, as by demonstration, those things which are no
    way objected unto sense, and which reason cannot comprehend. The more
    sublime and glorious--the more inaccessible unto sense and reason--the
    things are which we believe; the more are we changed into the image of
    God, in the exercise of faith upon them. Hence we find this most
    glorious effect of faith, or the transformation of the mind into the
    likeness of God, no less real, evident, and eminent in many, whose
    rationally comprehensive abilities are weak and contemptible, in the
    eye of that wisdom which is of this world, than in those of the
    highest natural sagacity, enjoying the best improvements of reason.
    For "God has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of
    the kingdom:" James 2: 5. However they may be poor, and, as another
    apostle speaketh, "foolish, weak, base, and despised;" (1 Cor. 1: 27,
    28;) yet that faith which enables them to assent unto and embrace
    divine mysteries, renders them rich in the sight of God, in that it
    makes them like unto him.

    Some would have all things that we are to believe to be leveled
    absolutely unto our reason and comprehension--a principle which, at
    this day, shakes the very foundations of the Christian religion. It is
    not sufficient, they say, to determine that the faith or knowledge of
    any thing is necessary unto our obedience and salvation, that it seems
    to be fully and perspicuously revealed in the Scripture--unless the
    things so revealed be obvious and comprehensible unto our reason; an
    apprehension which, as it ariseth from the pride which naturally
    ensues on the ignorance of God and ourselves, so it is not only an
    invention suited to debase religion, but an engine to evert the faith
    of the church in all the principal mysteries of the Gospel--especially
    of the Trinity and the incarnation of the Son of God. But faith which
    is truly divine, is never more in its proper exercise--doth never more
    elevate the soul into conformity unto God--than when it acts in the
    contemplation and admiration of the most incomprehensible mysteries
    which are proposed unto it by divine revelation.

    Hence things philosophical, and of a deeps rational indagation, find
    great acceptance in the world--as, in their proper place, they do
    deserve. Men are furnished with proper measures of them, and they find
    them proportionate unto the principles of their own understandings.
    But as for spiritual and heavenly mysteries, the thoughts of men for
    the most part recoil, upon their first proposal, nor will be
    encouraged to engage in a diligent inquiry into them--yea, commonly
    reject them as foolish, or at least that wherein they are not
    concerned. The reason is that given in another case by the apostle:
    "All men have not faith;" (2 Thess. 3: 2;) which makes them absurd and
    unreasonable in the consideration of the proper objects of it. But
    where this faith is, the greatness of the mysteries which it embraceth
    heightens its efficacy, in all its blessed effects, upon the soul.
    Such is this constitution of the person of Christ, wherein the glory
    of all the holy properties and perfections of the divine nature is
    manifested, and does shine forth. So speaks the apostle, 2 Cor. 3: 18:
    "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into
    the same image, from glory to glory." This glory which we behold, is
    the glory of the face of God in Jesus Christ, (chap. 4: 6,) or the
    glorious representation which is made of him in the person of Christ,
    whereof we shall treat afterwards. The glass wherein this glory is
    represented unto us--proposed unto our view and contemplation--is
    divine revelation in the gospel. Herein we behold it, by faith alone.
    And those whose view is steadfast, who most abound in that
    contemplation by the exercise of faith, are thereby "changed into the
    same image, from glory to glory"--or are more and more renewed and
    transformed into the likeness of God, so represented unto them.

    That which shall, at last, perfectly effect our utmost conformity to
    God, and, therein, our eternal blessedness--is vision, or sight. "We
    shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is:" 1 John 3: 2. Here
    faith begins what sight shall perfect hereafter. But yet "we walk by
    faith, and not by sight:" 2 Cor. 5: 7. And although the life of faith
    and vision differ in degrees--or, as some think, in kind--yet have
    they both the same object, and the same operations, and there is a
    great cognation between them. The object of vision is the whole
    mystery of the divine existence and will; and its operation is a
    perfect conformity unto God--a likeness unto him--wherein our
    blessedness shall consist. Faith has the same object, and the same
    operations in its degree and measure. The great and incomprehensible
    mysteries of the Divine Being--of the will and wisdom of God--are its
    proper objects; and its operation, with respect unto us, is conformity
    and likeness unto him. And this it does, in a peculiar manner, in the
    contemplation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; and
    herein we have our nearest approaches unto the life of vision, and the
    effects of it. For therein, "beholding the glory of God in the face of
    Jesus Christ, we are changed into the same image, from glory to
    glory;" which, perfectly to consummate, is the effect of sight in
    glory. The exercise of faith herein does more raise and perfect the
    mind--more dispose it unto holy, heavenly frames and affections--than
    any other duty whatever.

    To be nigh unto God, and to be like unto him, are the same. To be
    always with him, and perfectly like him, according to the capacity of
    our nature, is to be eternally blessed. To live by faith in the
    contemplation of the glory of God in Christ, is that initiation into
    both, whereof we are capable in this world. The endeavours of some to
    contemplate and report the glory of God in nature in the works of
    creation and providence--in the things of the greater and the lesser
    world--do deserve their just commendation; and it is that which the
    Scripture in sundry places calls us unto. But for any there to abide,
    there to bound their designs--when they have a much more noble and
    glorious object for their meditations, viz, the glory of God in Christ-

  • is both to despise the wisdom of God in that revelation of himself, and to come short of that transforming efficacy of faith in the
    contemplation hereof, whereby we are made like unto God. For hereunto
    alone does it belong, and not unto any natural knowledge, nor to any
    knowledge of the most secret recesses of nature.

    I shall only say, that those who are inconversant with these objects
    of faith--whose minds are not delighted in the admiration of, and
    acquiescence in, things incomprehensible, such as is this constitution
    of the person of Christ--who would reduce all things to the measure of
    their own understandings, or else willfully live in the neglect of what
    they cannot comprehend--do not much prepare themselves for that vision
    of these things in glory, wherein our blessedness does consist.

    Moreover, this constitution of the person of Christ being the most
    admirable and ineffable effect of divine wisdom, grace, and power, it
    is that alone which can bear the weight of the whole superstructure of
    the mystery of godliness--that whereinto the whole sanctification and
    salvation of the church is resolved--wherein alone faith can find rest
    and peace. "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which
    is Jesus Christ:" 1 Cor. 3: 11. Rest and peace with God is that which
    we seek after. "What shall we do to be saved?" In this inquiry, the
    acts of the mediatory office of Christ are, in the Gospel, first
    presented unto us--especially his oblation and intercession. Through
    them is he able to save unto the uttermost those that come to God by
    him. But there were oblations for sin, and intercessions for sinners,
    under the Old Testament; yet of them all does the apostle affirm, that
    they could not make them perfect that came unto God by them, not take
    away conscience condemning for sin: Heb. 10: 1-4. Wherefore, it is not
    these things in themselves that can give us rest and peace, but their
    relation unto the person of Christ. The oblation and intercession of
    any other would not have saved us. Hence, for the security of our
    faith, we are minded that "God redeemed the church with his own
    blood:" Acts 20: 28. He did so who was God, as he was manifested in
    the flesh. His blood alone could purge our consciences from dead
    works, who did offer himself unto God, through the eternal Spirit:
    Heb. 9: 14. And when the apostle--for our relief against the guilt of
    sin--calleth us unto the consideration of intercession and
    propitiation, he mindeth us peculiarly of his person by whom they are
    performed, 1 John 2: l,2: "If any man sin, we have an advocate with
    the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for
    our sins." And we may briefly consider the order of these things.

    1. We suppose, in this case, conscience to be awakened unto a sense
    of sin, and of apostasy from God thereby. These things are now
    generally looked on as of no great concernment unto us--by some made a
    mock of--and, by the most, thought easy to be dealt withal--at time
    convenient. But when God fixeth an apprehension of his displeasure for
    them on the soul--if it be not before it be too late--it will cause
    men to look out for relief.

    2. This relief is proposed in the gospel. And it is the death and
    mediation of Christ alone. By them peace with God must be obtained, or
    it will cease for ever. But,

    3. When any person comes practically to know how great a thing it is
    for an apostate sinner to obtain the remission of sins, and an
    inheritance among them that are sanctified, endless objections through
    the power of unbelief will arise unto his disquietment. Wherefore,

    4. That which is principally suited to give him rest, peace, and
    satisfaction--and without which nothing else can so do--is the due
    consideration of, and the acting of faith upon, this infinite effect
    of divine wisdom and goodness, in the constitution of the person of
    Christ. This at first view will reduce the mind unto that conclusion,
    "If thou canst believe, all things are possible." For what end cannot
    be effected hereby? What end cannot be accomplished that was designed
    in it? Is any thing too hard for God? Did God ever do any thing like
    this, or make use of any such means for any other end whatever?
    Against this no objection can arise. On this consideration of him,
    faith apprehends Christ to be-as he is indeed--the power of God, and
    the wisdom of God, unto the salvation of them that do believe; and
    therein does it find rest with peace.

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